Citizen Science project Stiemerlab

The next two years, I’ll be working on the Stiemerlab project. Stiemerlab is a citizen science project that aims to map the water quality of the Stiemerbeek (a stream in Genk, Belgium).  The water quality (pollution, algae formation) and biodiversity of the Stiemerbeek and Stiemerbeekvallei are affected by the sewerage system of the city and the increasing urban expansion. The citizen science project Stiemerlab starts from the premise that local residents and local organizations can actively contribute to charting and tackling water quality issues. The project aims to actively involve citizens, among other things by training them as citizen scientists to collect data about the water quality in the Stiemerbeek using sensors. In addition, citizens will also be able to participate in mapping the biological water quality by taking water samples at various locations in the Stiemervallei. The results obtained are then visualized in an accessible way to a wide audience in the public space and on an open online platform. The aim of this project is to gain insight into the restorative nature of the stream after overflowing from the sewers.

Stiemerlab is a collaboration between LUCA, School of Arts, VITO, Center for Environmental Science – Uhasselt, City of Genk, Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) and is financed by the Flemish government.

Foregrounding backstage activities

In the context of the projects ‘Wa make?!’ and ‘Making Things!’, Selina and I wrote an article for the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction. The article is called ‘Foregrounding backstage activities for engaging children in a FabLab for STEM education’ and is currently available online. It is a reworked version of the paper we presented at FabLearn Europe’18.

Participatory Design Conference

From the 20th until the 24th of August Uhasselt and LUCA, School of Arts organised the Participatory Design conference, taking part in Hasselt and Genk. I took part in the organisation of the conference as chair for the Local Participation Session and as one of the communication chairs.

But besides helping in the practical organisation and planning, I also presented a full paper in the track ‘Front, back and the roles in between’ which took place on the final conference day. The paper ‘The roles of adult-participants in the back- and frontstage work of Participatory Design processes involving children’, which I wrote together with Selina, describes ‘Making Things!’ and  focuses on the different roles adult-participants take on in the front-and backstage activities of these processes. Departing from an existing typology of the different roles (adult) participants fulfill in PD processes, we describe in detail the different roles of youth worker ‘Abby’ in the front-and backstage activities of ‘Making Things!’. The case analysis showed a need in re-defining some roles or even defining new ones. Furthermore, the paper contributes to a growing interest for these backstage activities and the importance of relational agency and symbiotic agreements in PD processes.

In the afternoon of this last day, Selina presented a short paper in the track ‘on the edge’. This paper, entitled ‘Exploring user gains in Participatory Design Processes with vulnerable children‘, we together with Bieke Zaman,  contributes to the debate on benefits that children can gain through their involvement in Participatory Design (PD) and highlights the importance of user gains in relation to vulnerable children.

Fun as user gain

During the 2018 ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) Conference Selina presented the paper ‘Fun as a User Gain in Participatory Design Processes involving Children: a Case Study’, which we wrote together with Bieke Zaman. This paper explores fun as a specific user gain for children taking part in Participatory Design (PD) processes. The findings are based on ‘Making Things!’, a case study involving children in the design of future FabLab workshops. The conference proceedings can be found here.

Backstage work for involvement in a FabLab

During the Fablearn conference which took place on the 18the of june in Trondheim,  Norway, I presented a paper which I wrote together with Selina. This paper ‘On the importance of backstage activities for engaging children in a FabLab’ focuses on the importance of building long term relationships with children when trying to involve them in a FabLab. Nurturing relationship is primarily done during backstage activities (more informal conversations and encounters) of PD processes. By comparing two cases ‘Wa Make’ and ‘Making Things’, we state that half-day STEM workshops for schools in FabLabs – often funded by government or sector organisations – are not sufficient to form meaningful relationships with non-expert users. This is related to factors such as the school contexts in which these workshops generally take place, the children experiencing “school fun” instead of “just fun”, and the limited focus on backstage activities when organizing the trajectory. Instead, by embedding STEM workshops in long(er)-term trajectories, children go beyond simple, introductory activities, start experimenting and are better able to open up to learning. Therefore, we advocate for shifting STEM education to leisure time (e.g. youth work) and considering FabLabs as more than merely technical infrastructures.


Paper accepted for FabLearn 2018

On the 18th of June 2018, Katrien Dreessen and Selina Schepers will present a paper during the FabLearn conference in Trondheim, Norway. Their paper ‘On the importance of backstage activities for engaging children in a FabLab’ focuses on the potential of FabLabs in relation to STEM education for non-expert users; more specifically, children of 6 – 16 years old.

Wa Make?!

logo_wa make zw wit achtergrondWith support of Flanders Make, FabLab Genk will organise free STEM (international abbreviation for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics”) workshops for elementary and junior high school; and more specifically for pupils from 10 to 14 years old aimed at inspiring them to choose a study within these fields.

The past months, different formats for these workshops were conceptualized and tested. This entailed experimenting with little bits – electronic building blocks developed for easy prototyping – and the infrastructure of FabLab Genk. The result are three different workshops:

  1. Create and make your own story using a zoetrope!
    A zoetrope is a system to make a movie, consisting of an upright cylinder with vertical openings. When the cylinder rotates you can see the drawings -attached to the inside of the cylinder wall – through the openings. Since the drawings are short to see, it looks like they flow into each other, creating the illusion of moving images.
  2. Create and race with your own car or plane!
    Although nowadays robots do most of the work, cars and planes were used to be assembled by people. And there are lots of parts! Did you know that modern cars are made of approximately 14,000 parts? Or that as many as 850 people at a time can fly with the largest passenger aircraft in the world? That’s why we’re going to get a better idea of how cars and planes work by putting together a model of a car or plane!
  3. Create and play with your own instrument!
    Do you like playing the guitar or did you always want to spin records as a famous DJ? In this workshop, you can create your own musical instrument and compose an own song! ‘Strum’ the ‘strings’ of your homemade electric guitar or run a crazy DJ show for your classmates.

Bespoke Design summarized in a booklet

IMG_20160226_101803After almost 3 years, the Participatory Design project Bespoke Design (Design op Maat in Dutch) is finally finished. The insights we gathered during this trajectory are translated and summarized in a booklet.

Starting from the everyday experiences of living with type 1 diabetes,  we developed self management tools for and together with one person. In contrast to the common medical and top-down approaches, wherein a ‘universal’ tool is designed for a large group of users, the participatory approach is more in line with the fact that people with diabetes use these tools 24/7, and are thus experts in dealing with this chronic condition.

Sugar Dispenser met achtergrond

This booklet gives an insight into the overall design process of Bespoke Design, the challenges involved, the participants and designers who collaborated in this process and the prototypes that were developed. Besides this, the aim of the booklet is to clarify the project’s contributions to the field of participatory and open design practices. The first chapter illustrates how we documented the project, and how sharing this documentation with others allowed these processes and results to transcend this particular project, the participants and team involved. In the second chapter, we assess how participatory making in a FabLab can be a way of extending participation in the making phase, instead of being restricted to the conceptual phase of a design project. Finally, the third chapter describes the need of setting up, maintaining and nurturing long-term relationships and the designer’s role in these processes. We conclude by stating that the changing practices of documenting, participatory making and infrastructuring within Bespoke Design demand a different role for the designer.